Gurdon: Hostess Twinkies glow in the archive of junk food

By |
Local,Meghan Cox Gurdon

"Awesome! Twinkies!"

"And Ho Hos!"

"No, no, no, no," I cried, rushing over to protect my precious pile of 20th-century relics. "These aren't for eating. They're for the archives."

For this disclosure, I received looks from the children of surprise and disapproval, and a suspicious question: "What do you mean, archives?"

I smiled smugly. "I'm going to save them! Then when you're grown-up and have children of your own, they'll be able to experience junk food from the olden days."

This was only partly a joke. Having banned Hostess products on account of their low food-to-chemicals ratio, I plan to surprise the children with some of these goodies when they least expect it. But I do think I'll keep a couple of packets stored away, in case we are hit with ostalgie.

That is the term, you may remember, for the inchoate, rosy glassed longing for East German products that had disappeared after the Berlin Wall came down in 1989.

A torrent of Western brands surged into the bleak supermarkets of the former GDR, and foodstuffs created under the communist regime, with all the elegance of packaging and deliciousness of content to be expected, lost their customer base overnight. Who, after all, would suffer through glasses of Cornelius Cola when they could enjoy "The Real Thing"?

So giddy were the liberated peoples at gaining access to yummy capitalist treats that it was several years before nostalgia set in -- too late so save many brands. Chalky chunks of chocolate were no longer in stores. Mushy canned socialist peas were no longer to be had. According to a 2009 study, only 17 percent of East German companies survived the transition to a market economy.

It is funny how endearing a brand of food can seem when it becomes scarce or disappears, even if you never wanted to eat the stuff in the first place. Your reluctance to eat it may be part of the reason the brand is disappearing, but for some reason, that doesn't impinge on the affectionate sorrow of seeing it go away.

So on Friday morning, when I heard the melancholy news about Hostess Brands, I rushed to the nearest 7-Eleven.

In case you hadn't heard, the company is going into liquidation after striking workers refused to return to the struggling company's ovens and assembly lines. Instead of an 8 percent pay cut, 18,000 or so employees will be getting a 100 percent pay cut.

And famous Hostess Brands, chemical wonders such as Wonder Bread and Fruit Pies ("artificially flavored" with "real fruit filling"!), durable enough to survive Armageddon, may be headed to the same commercial oblivion as Fillinchen crisp bread and Spreewald pickles.

To my amazement, no one else in the crowded convenience store seemed to be loading up on Hostess products. How could anyone buy "cheeseburger"-flavored hot dogs and nachos with molten orange cheese at a time like this? Didn't they listen to the news?

Quickly, furtively, I filled my arms with packets of "Frosted Chocolate Cake with Creamy Filling," "Golden Sponge Cake with Creamy Filling" and "Chocolate Cake Rolled with Creamy Filling."

When I got home, Billy the Wonder Dog strolled over. His nose twitched as he carefully explored the parcels I'd brought. Was it a toy? Was it food? He sniffed for a moment. Nah, not food, he decided, and turned away.

Not food, maybe, but artifacts of history! I plan to store them in the basement, along with the baby blankets, Christmas ornaments and other imperishables that will eventually go to the next generation.

Meghan Cox Gurdon's column appears on Sunday and Thursday. She can be contacted at mgurdon@washingtonexaminer.com.

View article comments Leave a comment